There was no mea culpa Monday.
Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen said during his weekly press conference that he stands by his decision to run the ball up the middle with Deontae Cooper instead of taking a knee late in Saturday’s 27-26 loss at
No. 15 Arizona, despite the fact that Cooper fumbled, the Wildcats recovered and Casey Skowron eventually kicked the game-winning field goal.
He replayed the circumstances “about 105 times,” Petersen said, and “if I had to do it again right today, I’d do the same thing.”
A refresher: The Huskies, leading 26-24, had just achieved a first down on a run by quarterback Cyler Miles. That gave them a new set of downs and the ability to run the clock to at least 1 minute, 28 seconds (more likely 1:27) before they had to snap the ball on their next play.
Arizona had one timeout remaining, which it likely would have called immediately after UW’s first-down play if the Huskies hadn’t fumbled. Had Petersen instructed Miles to take a knee, the clock likely would have ticked to somewhere around 1:25 by the time Arizona would have been granted its final timeout.
That would have given the Huskies 85 seconds to kill between second, third and fourth downs, with 78-80 seconds of play clock at their disposal — meaning they would have needed to waste only about seven seconds of play-time on second, third and fourth downs, something that seemingly could have been accomplished by having Miles wait an extra second or two before kneeling on each play, or simply running backward or toward the wide side of the field before falling down.
None of those options appealed to Petersen, who felt that sticking to the game chart, which details how much time must remain before a team can kill the clock with kneel-downs, was the right thing to do. Petersen figured there could have been between four and eight seconds remaining on the clock by the time the Huskies would have had to snap their fourth-down play if Miles had taken conventional kneel-downs on first, second and third down.
So Miles called for the snap with 1:33 remaining and seven seconds on the play clock — which Miles should have milked further, Petersen admitted — handed the ball to Cooper, who fumbled for the first time in his career, the Wildcats recovered, and you know what happened after that.
Here’s how Petersen explained it on Monday:
“The one thing I really want you guys to know is, all of it was very calculated. So you might not agree with the strategy, but we’ve got our charts, all our game plans, and the guys are looking at it upstairs. … Looking at the chart, we felt like we still had a handful of seconds left before we could really knee it and kill it.
“And what I didn’t want to do was take three knees and then have to punt. We didn’t know exactly how many seconds were going to be left. I didn’t want to do that thing where you’re running around back there and then all of a sudden there’s one second left and they’re in field goal range. So the strategy was: ‘Hey, we’re going to run one more play, and then we can re-look at this time clock and see if we can get it all the way down and take a knee.’ ”
Why not have Miles just run backward twice to waste a few seconds?
“I don’t have a problem with that, if we can get that all done,” Petersen said. “Like I said, we go back and kind of go off the charts, and if the chart says we’re not really in that knee position yet, we go from there.”
What he certainly should have done differently, though, was call a timeout with about 30 seconds to go, immediately after Arizona’s third-down play that set up the game-winning field goal.
Instead, Petersen let Arizona run the clock all the way down to three seconds, at which point the Wildcats called their final timeout. That meant UW would have no time to try to score if Skowron made the kick (which he did). Petersen said he didn’t think to call timeout following the third-down play because “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”
In hindsight, Petersen said, “I guess we could have done that, yeah, and had a chance to return something.”
Petersen did call a timeout to try to ice Skowron immediately before the kick. The coach said he wanted the timeout called early enough that Arizona wouldn’t be able to snap the ball and have Skowron try essentially a practice kick. But the officials granted UW’s timeout just late enough that Skowron was indeed able to get the kick away — which he missed.
“We practice that every week ourselves — that if they ice you right at the end, you’re going to take a free kick,” Petersen said. “And so I tried to call timeout a little bit earlier, twice, and for whatever reason, it wasn’t called. And that’s on me to make sure that we don’t even mess around with that.”